United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: Moscow City Ballet, Moscow City Ballet Orchestra / Igor Shavruk (conductor)), Richmond Theatre, London, 1.3.2014 (J.O’D)
Clara: Anna Ivanova
Nutcracker Prince: Andrei Zhuravlev
Drosselmeier: Sergei Saliev
Flower Fairy: Liliya Orekhova
Mouse King: Talgat Kozhabev
Doll: Marina Larina
Nutcracker Doll: Valeriy Kravtsov
Mouse King Doll: Yaroslav Alekhnovich
Fritz: Nino Uchava
Spanish Dance: Ekaterina Tokareva
Russian Dance: Ekaterina Odarenko
Eastern Dance: Elena Kotelkina
Chinese Dance: Mikharu Nishi
Libretto: Victor Smirnov-Golovanov
Version and Direction: Victor Smirnov-Golovanov
Choreography: Victor Smirnov-Golovanov after Marius Petipa
Designs: Natalia Povago
Costumes: Elisaveta Dvorkina
On a small stage, and with no recourse to theatrical effects such as scrims and dry ice, Moscow City Ballet’s touring production of The Nutcracker finds its magic in the music (played by company’s orchestra), the backdrops and costumes, and the strength of its narrative line. The stage in question is that of the red and gold Victorian Richmond Theatre. Tchaikovsky’s music (though there might be occasional uncertainties) is performed with clarity and a sense of drama. The designs and costumes (by Elizaveta Dvorkina and Natalya Povago) bring the colours and fabrics of nineteenth-century St.Petersburg to the suburbs of twenty-first century London.
Choreographer Victor Smirnov-Golovanov (an ex-soloist of the Bolshoi Ballet) focuses throughout on the figure of Clara (Anna Ivanova). She is the first dancer to step on to the empty stage. The Christmas party drawing-room scene builds up around her. There are no children in this production. Their parts are danced by adult members of the corps de ballet. Ivanova herself alternates child-like excitement at the thought of Christmas presents, with moments of balance and poise that already suggest a move towards maturity. The presents she receives are three dolls from her surprisingly young and knowingly smiling godfather, Drosselmeier the magician (Sergei Saliev). The lighting and music change as the fairy-tale’s acknowledgement of death is introduced into the Christmas celebrations. A grim-mouthed, soldier, Nutcracker Doll (Valeriy Kravtsov) dances like an automaton with his blonde-wigged companion. Death takes on a more real form during the attack by the third doll, the Mouse King (Talgat Kozhabev) and his mice accomplices (one of whom, incidentally, twirls her tail like a showgirl as she struts across the stage).
When, at the end of first act, the Mouse King has been slain and the room transformed by Drosselmeier into a pine forest, the focus is once again on Clara. She does not simply stand watching the Snowflakes in their long, blue-grey tutus and diamond head-dresses; she dances with them in what could be seen as a rite of passage (there are no men on the stage). The women of the corps, with their strong backs and unwavering arms, become a character in the ballet, guiding Clara towards womanhood. In Act Two, the female dancers of the divertissements are examples of the woman Clara might become. Against a backdrop of pink and accompanied in each case by two men, they are lively in the Spanish dance, playful in the Chinese, active in the Russian, aloof in the Eastern. The men, for their part, perform astonishing jumps in the Chinese Dance and are careful to keep their hands horizontal at all times in the Eastern Dance. Presiding over this act is the graceful Flower Fairy (Liliya Orekhova), who always dances alone.
It is in long, pink tutus that the corps surrounds Clara before she emerges as a ballet dancer herself, in white. The Nutcracker (she chooses him, in an act of adult independence, over a Drosselmeier who has suddenly presented himself as a rival) is no longer grim, or a soldier, but a Prince (Andrei Zhuravlev). Dressed now in white and gold, he dances with Clara in a pas de deux that shows moments of unsteadiness, but that both dancers bring to a successful end. After their fish dive, Drosselmeier the magician returns to sweep the dancers of the divertissements, and the corps, into darkness. Clara, asleep, is transported to the drawing room. When she wakes up, in the real world once again, she finds that under their sinister, rune-decorated coverings the Nutcracker Prince, the Doll and the Mouse King have all been replaced by baskets of flowers.
When you watch ‘The Nutcracker’, you think of childhood and of being a child. It was with the simplicity and the eagerness of a child that on his way out a man asked at the kiosk, about Moscow City Ballet: ‘Are they coming back?’